What Are Gun Laws In Denmark Like? They're Pretty Well Regulated

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 19: Guns seized by the New York Police Department (NYPD), in the largest seizure of illegal guns in the city's history, are displayed on a table during a press conference on August 19, 2013 in New York City. The operation, which involved an undercover agent buying guns that were smuggled from North Carolina and South Carolina, yielded over 250 guns. 19 people have been charged in the operation. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Source: Andrew Burton/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It's been a deeply dark last 24 hours for the city of Copenhagen. First, a free speech debate featuring Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks was assaulted by gunfire, killing one person in what's been characterized as a retributive attack against Vilks' portrayals of the prophet Muhammad. And second, early Sunday morning local time, yet another shooting has occurred close to a prominent synagogue in central Copenhagen. It brings a familiar question to mind, varyingly asked in times like these: what are Denmark's gun laws like, and could they have had any bearing on what's taken place?

While accepting that the facts could change, since so much is still unknown about the attacks, it seems unlikely that they could have. As it turns out, Denmark has (by global standards) pretty restrictive gun laws, and boasts a significantly different national attitude towards firearms ownership than, say, the gun-loving United States does. From a cultural perspective, this may be in part because there's no Danish version of the Second Amendment — there's no fundamental right to gun ownership in Denmark, which is about as lightyears away from the American way as it gets. 

But it reaps rewards in terms of limiting gun-related deaths. As detailed by GunPolicy.org, the data shows Denmark's cellar-low levels of gun deaths, with less than two people killed by guns for every 100,000 Danish citizens from 1998 to 2011. By comparison, the United States had a rate of just over 10 gun deaths per every 100,000 citizens in 2013, which makes sense when you consider how much bigger the stockpile is — America leads the world in gun ownership, while a mere 12 out of 100 Danes own guns.

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In short, it's not as though gun access is particularly, glaringly easy in Denmark like it is in the United States, where gun shows allow for more or less completely unregulated private sales. In fact, quite the contrary — anybody who wants to legally own a gun in Denmark must be licensed, passing a background check, stating a reason why they need the firearm, and being entered into law enforcement records so that everyone's arms are accounted for. Basically, by the NRA's standards, it's like a harrowing nightmare realm.

Obviously, there's a lot we don't know right now about the Copenhagen shootings, right down to whether or not the two were actually related, and whether the assailant was using a legal, licensed gun or an illegal one. Given Denmark's relatively tight gun laws, the authorities should at the very least have a record of it if it's licensed. But the suspect in the first shooting hasn't even been identified yet, and obviously, would-be assassins are probably less concerned about breaking firearms laws than most, so at this point it's all very speculative. Hopefully what's been happening in Copenhagen will get clearer in the coming days, and we'll all more precisely know how it went down.

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